|Field Marshal Lord Kitchener|
I am a huge World War I buff. If I had another 60 years added to my life, I would go back to school and earn a Ph.D. in history focusing on World War I–most likely the preparedness movement championed by Theodore Roosevelt, Leonard Wood, and others from the sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915 to the American declaration of war in April 1917.
World War I marks the beginning of the twentieth century. January 1, 1901 is not the first day of the twentieth century–June 28, 1914, the date of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, is. In terms of logistics, communication, and transportation the war was managed, at least in the first months, much the same way wars had been managed since Roman times. But by the end of the war four years later, everything had modernized so completely as to make the beginning of the war so different that it occurred to the mind more as a dream than a memory.
The personalities are fascinating. Back in those days, personalities, relationships, neuroses, hurt feelings, family dynamics, and emotional ties each had tremendous power to affect international events. Europe was ruled by ancient families, most of which stretched back to the Medieval period. The Hohenzollerns, the Habsburgs, the Romanovs, and the Hanover/Saxe-Coburgs (of England) traced their dynastic claims back many centuries.
Even the generals are amazing–so often for their incredible incompetency and willingness to waste lives, though there were exceptions. Lanrezac, Joffre, Petain, and the indomitable Foch of the French Army; de Castlenau, von Kluck, Moltke, Crown Prince Rupprecht, von Falkenhayn–and who can forget von Hindenburg and von Ludendorff of the German Army; then there’s Kitchener, French, and Haig of the British Army as well as Jellicoe and Beatty of the British Navy; and of course, there’s the towering presence of the American general Pershing the moment he arrived in France in 1917 with the words, “Lafayette, we are here.” Awesome.
It is estimated that World War I claimed 37 million men killed, wounded, or missing. The most destructive battles in human history were fought in World War I–Verdun and the Somme claimed a million casualties each in 1916. On the first day of the battle of the Somme, the British sustained 60,000 casualties, the bloodiest day in Britain’s history. Such a waste of life.
One hundred years seems like an eternity–World War I has largely been forgotten by the American mind, overshadowed by the Second war. But there will be a lot of great new books out on various aspects of the First war next year, 2014, one hundred years after Gavrilo Princip’s revolver killed the Archduke and his wife, Sophie. There’s a new biography of President Woodrow Wilson by A. Scott Berg, reviewed here. There is also a new book by Margaret Macmillan, author of Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World, on the causes of the war, a question which seems simple but has eluded simple explanations for a century. Macmillan’s book is reviewed here. And Max Hastings has a new book on the first battles of the war in 1914 that looks fantastic.
Exciting new books, and I look forward to reading them. If anyone wants to sponsor me to get a second Ph.D. let me know!